Death of an Icon



As I begin, let me state that I have no agenda with this blog.  The catalyst of this blog was an innocent visit to the now defunct and deserted Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  A battle and its subsequent storm have garnered unprecedented flood of media coverage and personal emotions.  It pitted friends against friends, activists against environmentalists and private citizens against government.

My purpose is not to make a statement about the controversy nor take sides.  A couple of weeks ago, I attended a weekend photographic workshop in Point Reyes National Seashore.  We photographed many locations around the Park including a brief visit to the Oyster Farm.  Having visited the Oyster Farm when it was a vibrant, living and energetic operation, I was taken back by the silence and ghost town-like atmosphere.  It didn’t matter whether or not I was in favor of the closure.  My eyes were filled with tears.   I tried to take a few images, but couldn’t concentrate on photography.  Later that night, I thought about what I had seen and knew I wanted to write about it.  The following week I drove back to Point Reyes and again visited the Oyster Farm with my camera and a purpose.  I want to show the sense of desolation of the once thriving commercial organization.

First a brief history.  In 1962, President John Kennedy signed a law establishing Point Reyes National Seashore on a largely undeveloped, triangle-shaped peninsula about 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.   At that time and as of this writing, it is a bucolic area of historic ranges, farms and dairies.  Congress struck a deal whereas the federal government would buy out the farmers and then lease the land back to them so they could continue their agricultural traditions.  The goal:  Point Reyes National Seashore would, and did, become a balance between recreation, wilderness preservation, and pastoral land use.

In 1935, decades before the area became a park, Johnson’s Oyster Farm began operations with a conditional use permit to keep farming there until 2012.  Kevin Lunny, a third generation Point Reyes rancher and whose family still operates the Historic G Ranch in Point Reyes, bought the oyster farm from Johnson in 2005.  Lunny renamed it Drakes Bay Oyster Company.  When he announced his intention to seek a lease extension from the National Park Service, the controversy erupted.


National Park Service and their supporters:

  • A lease is a lease with an ending date period.   Additionally, the National Park Service wants to return the land to its nature state for the public to enjoy and the Park Service to protect.
  • A commercial enterprise spoils a unique, gorgeous wilderness area
  • The activists fear a bad precedent would be set if the Oyster Farm is allowed to stay open.  Thereby opening the doors for other commercial enterprises and a danger to other wilderness areas and national parks.
  • The Oyster farm endangers the environment; citing harbor seals may be in jeopardy.

Drake Bay Oyster Farm and their supporters:

  • They are cleaning up the environment as they’ve gathered up plastic tubes and other materials left by the pervious growers.
  • Local restaurants and markets say the oyster farm provides local, sustainable and delicious oysters
  • The farm provides local jobs
  • The Lunnys state they purchased the farm with the verbal understanding there would be no problem renewing the lease in 2012

There are, of course, many more sides to both sides of this controversy.

Back to the title of this blog, “Death of an Icon.” Where does the Drake Bay Oyster Farm stand now?  As of the writing of this blog, it is on life support.  On July 31st of this year, it was ordered to close its doors, pack up and leave.  Having made appeal after appeal, their final appeal was turned down when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  Thus shutting the door that allowed them to stay open during the appeal process.  My understanding is the Lunnys are continuing to explore other legal options.

It is sad to see what is left and the shape it is in.  My hope is whoever ends up with control of this piece of property will bring it back to life.

Following are images with just a few comments as I feel the scenes speak for themselves.

The image at the beginning of this blog greets unknowing visitors to the “retail” store.  The top sign on the blackboard reads:

“… So sorry the Oyster Shack

is closed … as of July 31, by order of the NPS

A heartfelt Thank You for your

decades of loyal patronage!

Stop by the local restaurants and grocers

who proudly offer DRAKES BAY OYSTERS &


















There are two sides to this controversy; both have their arguments.  I don’t eat oysters; therefore Drakes Bay Oyster Farm’s closing will not impact my diet.  Perhaps if and when the National Park Service restores this area to its natural state and  reopens it to the public, I will enjoy its serenity and beauty while I picnic and take snapshots.  But I will mourn the lost of an icon and wonder if there could have been a nobler resolution.

Thank you for reading this blog.  Please post your comments.  I am interested in hearing what other thinks.

To view more of my images, please checkout my website:

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4 thoughts on “Death of an Icon

  1. Thanks, Harold! It was both fun and sad to write this. Thanks for taking our group there.

    All the email responses have been in favor of letting the oyster farm stay. But, of course, I didn’t hear anything from the Park Service. 🙂

  2. Your photos were worth a thousand words. The lonliness and vacuum they conveyed affectd me at a deep level. Thanks, Gail. I remember the Oyster Farm as a busy vital establishment. Times change. Thanks, Gail.

    • Thank you, Joan, for reading this blog and responding. Yes, it was distressing and certainly did have the feeling of “death.” We are fortunate to have been there when it was alive. That’s the way I want to remember it.

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